- Region : Crete
- Prefecture: Chania
- Municipality: Sfakia
- Populationpol: 50
There are hundreds of people who walk down the Samaria Gorge each day in the summer. After a drink at one of the tavernas in Agia Roumeli where the gorge opens to the sea and perhaps enjoying a swim, most board the ferry taking them to Chora Sfakia (Sfakia).
There, waiting buses transport the aching crowds back to Chania. On the way, the ferry calls in at Loutro and many vow to visit it one day - few do so!
Loutro is peaceful - it is small and feels like a village even if 95% of the people here in the summer are visitors. It takes less than five minutes to amble from one side of the bay from Sifis Hotel & Maestrali Bar (Vangelis'), past Daskalogiannis Hotel, the tavernas, mini-market, the Blue House, the pebble beach, Hotel Porto Loutro, Notos, "Fat Stav's", a couple more tavernas and then Keramos rooms and fish taverna.
Don't forget the church, second mini-market and a few other buildings - more rooms including perched-on-the-hillside Villa Niki - that's it!
Loutro evokes some great emotion - produced perhaps by the unique combination of the steep, harsh, rock mountainsides - audibly decorated with the clinking of goat bells - the sun visibly changing the panorama in view as its ark lights different aspects of the slopes forming the bowl - the bay that houses Loutro, the often-warm sea, the history and the people. This magic place.
Really Loutro is a place to let days flow by as they will. When you meet people who's poetic utterances appeal - converse, when striding rocky paths is the urge - proceed, when the water beckons - shout back / get in; eat and relax. You shouldn't come here expecting entertainment - the reward is being in Loutro and listening to what your heart desires...
How to get there
Unless you come by private boat or yacht you will take the 20 minute ferry ride from Chora Sfakia, there are about 4 ferries a day in the summer months (see ferry schedules). Some of the domatia / small hotels will pick you up there if you arrive outside ferry schedule hours.
If you arrive at Chora Sfakia at night, stay there and take the ferry in the morning - far better. You can hire a water taxi if you wish to spend 12 to 14 times this figure. Hikers may walk along the path, which has a few precipitous moments but is generally of medium effort to the practiced; it takes 1.5 to 2 hours.
Where to stay
Almost everywhere has a sea view. Most places are part of the horseshoe frontage -in Loutro for the most part you are no more than one building from the seafront).
Our favourite has to be one of the two buildings that comprise the Hotel Porto Loutro; the building on the beach is the original and it shares with its recent partner which is perched just on the hill, a collection of light, bright, airy, simple and uncluttered rooms. All have balconies with great views worth travelling for. Both have a bar with breakfast served in wonderful day-welcoming settings.
If Loutro is too busy for you (how could that be?), then Phoenix (walk there in 15 minutes or take the boat that leaves the pier in front of Maestrali"Vangeli's" each day at 11) is pleasant and has rooms to rent. The place does not have the magic of Loutro - but some devotees of simplicity and quiet return every year.
Credit cards are not useful in Loutro - remember "cash is king"! There is an ATM (cash) machine in Sfakia, at the gift shop, next to the post office. You need to have your Visa or Mastercard pin number.
What to see & do
The long beach at Sweetwater and the smaller pebble beach at Marmara can be reached by walking on at times narrow and severe paths (Sweetwater about 30-45 minutes, Marmara 45-60 minutes). There are boats that leave at 11 for each of these and return at around 16.30.
Visit the castle and ruins on the hill above Loutro. Walk (E4 path goes through Loutro). Walk a little or strenuous hikes - this is the perfect place to get your first taste of the mountain and sea-edge paths or to enjoy a challenge if you are athletically inclined.
Walking to Phoenix: 15-25 minutes; Anopolis - a 50 -90 minute vertical climb rewarded by the village and plateau and first rate Sfakian cheese pies, breathtaking views, wildlife, spring flowers.
Aradena and the Aradena gorge - depends where you climb and then descend into it -60 minutes to 3 hours; the virtually un-populated old village of Livaniana - 60-90 minutes (a small taverna is open some of the year at the entrance to the village - best for a drink to replenish and rest at after the walk).
We often walk these routes in shorter times - but you really do not need, nor is it advised, to race - take care and favourite walking shoes, hat and water.
Frangokastello has the remains of a Venetian fortress - little actually remains apart from the walls. This is a bus ride from Chora Sfakia (check carefully to match bus times to ferries and so on). The beach is good and there are places to eat and drink.
The Imbros Gorge has not so far seen the crowds of the Samaria Gorge. You can take the first ferry to Chora Sfakia and then the next bus to Vrysses and Chania, as far as Imbros. Cafes there serve Sfakian Pies - good fuel for the walk - the walk takes two to three hours, more if you are to walk back to Chora Sfakia.
For those staying longer or feeling momentarily restless, hop on the ferry and take a ride to Agia Roumelli and back, an economical coastal cruise. You can also take the ferry into Sfakia (Chora Sfakia) and spend a half hour or a few hours there for a change of scene (check ferry schedules). All walking times are for one direction only.
Where to eat & drink
Eat anywhere! All the tavernas have good food - the Blue house, easily found by its deep blue-framed windows, may have the biggest selection. Some specialize in grilled (over charcoal) food - most have fresh fish as available, and variously lamb, goat, mezes, salads and many traditional taverna dishes - variety is good.
Pavlos (Paul's) is good for grilled foods and to enjoy his organic, mountain-grown vegetables and salads. The superb and interesting Notos specializes in wonderfully prepared interesting Meze and romantic Italian pasta and salads (the blue cheese salad is stunning) suitable for both a snack or very full meal
The re-opened Keramos, on the far side of the bay, is fish supreme accompanied by truly superb simple salads and the best dakos (classic cretan rusk with tomato and special cheese). You may wait longer to be served here - it's worth it.
Sifis hotel (opposite side of the bay!) has a restaurant with good souvlaki, fish and daily selections - swordfish is good. For those sweet-toothed temptations Maria's bakery was one big favourite.
For a change of setting walk over the hill (15-20 minutes) to Old Phoenix taverna - a terrace by the sea, good salads, fish and standard menu.